Laundry Skills

Today, we have a great life skills activity: specifically, laundry skills! In this blog post, we are discussing the life skill of laundry. Washing and drying clothes is an independent living task that anyone who manages their activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living must learn. Getting dressed each day requires clean clothing. And in order to manage and wear clean clothing, dirty clothes must be laundered! Whether you are looking for information on teaching laundry skills to teens, or working in a special needs classroom with special education students in a life skills classroom or group home, laundry skills are a part of occupational therapy interventions. You’ll also want to check out our cooking life skills activities for more ways to support IADLs.

Laundry skills

Laundry Skills

Don’t you just love those 12 seconds when the laundry is all done?  Laundry is the gift that keeps on giving.  Laundry life skills are necessary and inevitable. Unless you plan to do your kid’s laundry for the rest of their lives, start teaching laundry skills early. 

Teenager Laundry Schedule

Washing: 30 minutes

Drying: 30 minutes

Folding and putting away: 7-10 business days

How do you know when it is really time for your kids to learn laundry skills?

  • When half of the clean laundry ends up in the dirty basket unworn
  • When they wear like seven outfits a day
  • Clothes are so wrinkled in the drawers, they have to be rewashed to be worn
  • They ask you to do laundry so often because they only wear their favorite three things

Laundry Life Skills Learning Lessons

People learn by doing. They also learn by making mistakes. Suffering natural consequences versus being nagged at or scolded, is a better way for people to learn.  These are some valuable life lessons my teenagers learned while learning to do laundry properly.

  • Teenager claims they need more underwear and socks.  Turns out they are all just dirty
  • They shove so many clothes into the washer, the clothes are barely wet
  • Everything goes in the same load, creating lovely pink blobs on everything
  • The laundry stays in the washer for five days.  EWWW
  • The laundry stays in the dryer for five days. Has to be rewashed
  • Your kid looks like they dragged their clothes out of a garbage bag each time they get dressed
  • Your teen does not do laundry until the only option left is their prom dress!
  • Too much soap, not enough soap, hot water, you get the picture
Laundry life skills include executive functioning skills
All steps of laundry life skills include executive functioning skills.

Laundry Task Analysis

Doing laundry requires many underlying skill areas. We can look at these in a laundry task analysis.

First, let’s look at the areas needed for this life skill task. Because there are multiple steps to doing laundry, there are many aspects that go into laundry skills, there are many underlying areas of development that impact teaching laundry.

The underlying areas of laundering include:

  1. Fine motor skills: pinch and grip strength, coordination
  2. Gross motor skills: upper body strength, core strength, balance, coordination, posture, stability, range of motion
  3. Visual motor skills: eye-hand coordination,
  4. Visual perceptual skills: visual discrimination, visual scanning, visual figure ground, form constancy,
  5. Sensory motor skills: Tactile discrimination, proprioceptive input, vestibular input, visual processing, auditory processing
  6. Executive functioning skills: task initiation, task completion, working memory, attention, organization
  7. Cognitive skills: Direction following, problem solving, safety awareness

With all of these considerations it’s no wonder that laundry skills are a challenge for all ages!

We have a checklist of tasks that need to be done listed below. This is an important part of the task analysis, because the layout of the home, laundry area, and other environmental considerations will play a huge role in the laundry task analysis, especially for the motor skills involved.

Laundry Checklist

Laundry skills involves many steps. It’s because of this multi-step process, that sometimes the task “falls apart”. Laundry skills includes the following basic steps:

  1. Sorting clothing by light and dark colors or by fabric. For some individuals, starting with a sorting task is a great first step. Use these sorting colors ideas.
  2. Placing clothing into a hamper or clothes basket and emptying pockets.
  3. Carrying a full basket of clothes.
  4. Lifting a full basket to empty into a washer. Or bending/reaching to place dirty clothes into the washing machine.
  5. Pre-treating any stains.
  6. Adding the correct amount of detergent, the appropriate type of laundry detergent, and motor tasks such as: opening the detergent bottle, pouring the correct amount of soap, adding the soap to the correct place in the washing machine. 
  7. Using an appropriate load size for the washing machine and the clothing type.
  8. Selecting a water temperature appropriate for the clothing fabric type, such as using cold water for certain clothing fabrics and using warm water over hot water for others.
  9. Turning on settings for the appropriate wash cycle.
  10. Remembering to listen for the laundry machine buzzer or setting an alarm for the end of the washing cycle.
  11. Removing wet clothing and placing into a dryer.
  12. Removing any clothing that needs to air dry.
  13. Selecting the right amount of drying time for the clothing from the dryer’s settings
  14. Turning the dial to the appropriate setting.
  15. Using an appropriate dryer load size.
  16. Setting an alarm or remembering to remove dry clothing from the dryer when complete (task completion).
  17. Removing all of the dry clothing from the dryer.
  18. Folding clothing, including how to fold pants, shirts, and other types of clothing.
  19. Matching and rolling socks together.
  20. Putting away clothing.
  21. Hanging clothing on hangers when appropriate.

Each of these steps could potentially be a stumbling block, right? Especially when you take into consideration the various physical and cognitive skills needed for each task. Breaking down the tasks can be helpful.

For example, a shorter list of laundry tasks is as follows:

  1. Gather dirty laundry from around the house.
  2. Sort laundry into categories (e.g., lights, darks, delicates).
  3. Load the washing machine, being careful not to overload.
  4. Add laundry detergent.
  5. Select the appropriate wash cycle and temperature.
  6. Start the washing machine.
  7. Once the wash cycle is complete, remove clothes from the washing machine.
  8. Select the appropriate dryer setting.
  9. Start the dryer.
  10. Once dry, immediately remove clothes from the dryer.
  11. Put clothes away in their designated places.

Tips and Strategies for teaching Laundry Skills

These tips are helpful for all learning, not just laundry.

  • Break the tasks down into smaller chunks to make them more manageable. The learner may not be able to do all their laundry, but can probably stuff the items in a basket or washer.
  • Choose times for learning when there is not a rush.  Learners cannot work under pressure.
  • Set realistic expectations.  Your two year old might not be able to fold clothes properly.  That’s ok, they can put them in the basket.
  • Accept mediocracy.  Learn to accept the towels and sheets will not be folded correctly.  Be happy they are clean and in the closet.
  • Think first about any sensory/motor/logistical components of the task and problem solve before starting.
  • Backward or forward chain. Backward chain would be to do all of the work for your learner, then have them come in and finish the final step. This offers a sense of accomplishment.  Forward chaining is having your learner do the first step, before they become overwhelmed, then you finish for them.  This gives confidence that they can do some of the laundry task.
  • There are many laundry steps for a learner to remember during any life skills task.
  • Minimize distractions and sensory input prior to starting.
  • Stay calm and do not add more pressure.
  • Let your learner do for themselves, only intervening when they start to get upset. Do not rush to fix everything so quickly. They will not learn that there is a problem if we constantly fix the errors before they notice.
  • Give the learner opportunities to be independent, even at a small task.
  • If your learner has sensory related concerns, the OT Toolbox has a great resource called the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, with checklists and strategies to weave sensory activities into your learner’s day

No wonder laundry skills are such a complex task!

“Sometimes you might feel like no one is there for you.  You know who is always there for you?  Laundry.  Laundry will always be there for you.” Author Unknown

Other Benefits of Doing Life Skills like Laundry

  • Allows more free time for parents to focus on other things
  • Instills a sense of responsibility for their belongings
  • Builds executive function skills – starting and finishing a project, time management, planning, prioritizing, and foresight to name a few.  The OT Toolbox has a FREE course on developing executive function and several resources on this valuable life skill.
  • The task can be adjusted to meet levels, whether developmental disabilities are present or specific areas of need: motor planning, executive functioning skills, physical abilities etc.
  • Sensory processing skills and self regulation. Heavy work is a great way to regulate the sensory system through proprioception. Laundry has built in heavy work from filling the laundry basket, pulling or pushing the basket, piling clothes into the washer, dragging wet clothes out of the washer, pushing them into the dryer, and pulling them out.  There are other senses alerted in a negative or positive way during laundry, such as smell of detergent, feeling the water on the clothes, the sound of the washer and dryer, or the warm feeling of clothes fresh out of the dryer. 
  • Builds independence and self reliance.

Laundry and Executive Functioning Skills

One of the biggest challenges with accomplishing laundry tasks tends to be the executive function component. I mean think about it: There are at least 17 steps to doing laundry…and if you use our simplified laundry list, there are still 11 steps!

Each of those 11 steps could potentially be it’s own task (sorting laundry. putting clothes in the washer. Folding. Putting away.) When you break down “laundry”, no wonder this life skill is so challenging when you add in difficulties with working memory, task initiation and completion, planning, prioritization, attention…It makes total sense!

One way we support these needs is by breaking down the huge task of “laundry” into steps. Then, we can come up with strategies for each component. This includes:

  • Using timers
  • Creating routines
  • Minimizing steps
  • Segmenting tasks

We actually made a handout on executive functioning hacks to assist with laundry. You can get a free copy of this in the form at the bottom of this blog post.

How to develop laundry life skills (or any other skills):

If you sit a seven year old down and ask them to do laundry, you will be met with either dread, frustration, or shutdown.  The task in entirety is too much all at once.  Not only can you break the task into measurable chunks, use the following adaptations to build laundry or any other life skills:

  • Print a laundry checklist with clear laundry steps and directions. Read here about visual schedules that can be used as a support.
  • Use a picture story sequence to walk through the task using real images of the individual completing the laundry task.
  • Make a social story about doing laundry so your learner gets a clear picture of the task ahead of time
  • Create a picture board with cards and velcro to move items from the “to do” to the “done” side.  
  • Create visual reminders in the laundry area to assist with the chore such as how much detergent, what temperature for the clothes
  • Adapt and modify the task as needed.  Determine what the barriers might be to making this task independent for your learner. Create folding boards to fold shirts, use laundry pods instead of measured detergent, wash all items on cold for ease, different colored baskets if sorting items, a clear system of where everything belongs, step stools if needed.
  • If you are hitting roadblocks when addressing life skills, there may be a motor or sensory component making skill acquisition more difficult. Problem solve these first, then move forward. The book, (affiliate link) Seeing Your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes is a great resource to problem solve and find solutions to everyday events such as going to bed, bathing, cooking, riding the bus, going to the dentist, doing chores, or the dreaded cafeteria.

After catching up on laundry this week, I am implementing prison rules. Each member gets one jumpsuit for the week.

Free laundry checklist and laundry hack sheet

Free Laundry Checklist

One tool that I love to use, especially when practicing laundry life skills with pre-teens and teenagers, or when executive functioning skills impact the ability to stay on top of laundry tasks, is printable checklists.

I created a printable checklist of laundry tasks broken down into stages:

  1. Preparing and Sorting Laundry
  2. Washing Laundry
  3. Drying Laundry
  4. Folding Laundry
  5. Putting Away Laundry

Each of these four steps could be a stumbling block, which means that the laundry sits there in a wet and stinky lump in the washer for a week. Or, the dry and clean laundry sits crumbled in the laundry basket for a month. Breaking down the steps is a huge piece of the puzzle.

I also made the checklist with columns for days of the week. This way, you can sort the laundry on one day and wash and dry the laundry on the next day. Then, you can fold and put away the laundry on another day. Doing these tasks on the same day each week makes it not only manageable, but also part of a routine.

You can get this free printable by entering your email address into the form below. Plus, when you grab this printable, we also have a bonus- our list of executive function hacks for each step of laundry. These tips are great for targeting the working memory, attention, planning, and task completion of all of these steps.

FREE Laundry Checklist

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    These resources, along with many other life skills tools and activities are also found inside The OT Toolbox Membership!

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    laundry checklist